A few weeks ago, a buddy of mine invited me along on a whirlwind trip that can be best described as a reverse brewery tour. His brewery, Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. (AZWBC), brewed a beer in conjunction with Jimmy Eat World’s new album. The idea was that the brewery would host tap takeovers in the same cities the band was playing. So rather than visiting local breweries in a foreign city, we took an Arizona brewery to said foreign cities. We didn’t tour breweries, we took a brewery on tour.
I’ve been a fan of Jimmy Eat World for two decades. I first saw them at the Che Cafe in San Diego in 1996 and, for the following few years, every chance I got. They were an integral part of the music scene that largely defined my identity in those years. The band has been on constant and regular rotation through the albums and decades.So, presented with the opportunity to follow one of my favorite bands through a country I’ve grown to love while promoting and drinking great beer… seemed like a no-brainer.
The itinerary was simple but demanding. A different city every day. London, Dublin, Belfast, Glasgow, Manchester, Buxton, and then back to London.
I met Jonathon and Patrick, owners of AZWBC, at Sky Harbor on Saturday night. The red eye was uneventful. I scored an emergency row seat and slept most of the 9.5-hour flight. Good thing too, that was the best sleep I would get the whole trip.
We landed in Heathrow, met up with Matt, a photographer documenting the trip, and checked in. Evening rolled in so we headed to dinner with the bass player of the band. The rest of the night was fun but uneventful. Turns out London doesn’t party on Sunday nights. We ended up back in the hotel in the wee hours of the morning eating chicken wings that had been sitting out for a day, but we didn’t die. So there’s that.The next day we flew to Dublin. I had a score to settle with the city. Years ago, Anna and I and another couple spent the last day of a great trip in Dublin. We were all set on an epic pub crawl through the city’s historic pubs but every single pub was closed. Turns out, there’s one day every year that it’s illegal to sell alcohol in Ireland: Good Friday.
After checking into our hotel we made for a historic pub and bellied up to the bar. I noticed the two guys next to me sounded American. They were from Gilbert. Of the 8 people at the bar 7 were American and 1 was Irish. He drinks for free. Just a prop.
We tried a number of different Irish Pubs©. They all had the same contrived atmosphere. As we opened pub doors, stale U2 covers wafted liberally therefrom. Blech. Off to The Olympia for the show.
The Olympia is a cool ornate historic theater with two cool bars inside. The band hooked us up with a great box. We drank, sang along and made some friends. The rest of the night mirrored the beginning: terrible bars with terrible U2 cover bands. I met a radio DJ who wanted to pick a fight about how bland the Jimmy Eat World show was. I finally defused his hostility by bringing up Randy Newman. We emphatically agreed Randy was the best thing ever and parted friends. It was not the best Monday. Monday, bloody Monday.The next morning we made our way to the train station for a remarkably pleasant train ride to Belfast. We picked up our rental car and headed for the north coast. It rained all day but we were finally out of urbanity and into the countryside. After a quick stop at the old Bushmills distillery, we headed for the Giant’s Causeway. Pictures. Rain. Chinese tourists. Shenanigans. Back to Belfast.
Our night in Belfast was magical. We all were feeling a bit run down and melancholy after the dud that was Dublin. The show venue was terrible and the band was not 100%. We hung around for a few minutes and decided to head out. Some in our party wanted to call it a night but we decided we owed Belfast at least one drink. So we headed out, walking aimlessly into Belfast’s alleys.
The name of the game was cocktails. We nearly passed a nondescript blinking neon sign before someone noticed that it looked like it might be a cocktail bar. As we opened the door, the Doors… “this is the end, my only friend, the end…” We stepped into a bar directed by Wes Anderson: ironic 70s decor with deep velvet couches and tassels hanging from every conceivable edge. Our bodies sank into the couches as we ordered a round of safe cocktails. Home run. More cocktails, more home runs, more fantastic vintage analog tunes. The bartender was a magician. Not just great tasting drinks but he wielded visual alchemy with waterfalls of blue flame and novelty glassware that seemed to be made specific for each drink.
We headed out about midnight, found a proper foot stomping Irish pub, went on the prowl for food, and managed to find a cool little pizza joint with super friendly employees. We took our pizzas back to the apartment, ate, had a few more drinks. Pat and Jonathon retired and Matt and I decided that we should check into the election. We managed to tune in right at the moment when the world was realizing that Clinton was not a lock. We watched, mouths agape, as commentators started to unravel. It was surreal. We crashed around 4am and awoke to a new world. Luckily, I made a shirt just for the occasion.
The next day we headed to Glasgow via a little prop plane. Our first stop was recommended by Matt: a tour of the Auchentoshan distillery. Our tour was administered by a delightful, knowledgeable, and hilarious guide. As soon as he determined that the brewers in the party weren’t your average visitors he pulled out all the stops: “don’t tell anyone I let you do this…” I’ll honor his requests here, but needless to say, it was awesome. We bought an awesome bottle of scotch for the road and headed to the beer event.
The beer bar was cool and the locals were friendly and warm but… next door was a cool ramshackle tiki bar. We shared a great volcano bowl and Matt and I headed to the venue. I’d been looking forward to the Barrowland Ballroom show ever since my Glasgowegian cousin Carol enthusiastically endorsed the venue as “one of the most iconic venues in the U.K.” It was a great venue and fantastic show. I met up with Carol and her friend, both of whom we had to coax to come out for one drink after the show but managed to hang with us until about 3. We crashed with Carol and headed to the train station for Manchester in the morning.On the way to Manchester, we had to change trains at Preston. We decided to find a local pub for a proper pint. I sifted through a few locals on the CAMRA app and settled on a place called the Continental. On the way to the pub, I got a little turned around and decided that we might need to jump a few fences. Our little off road excursion turned into a mini adventure as we made our way through spooky old buildings and down into dripping tunnels with their own victorian street lights. The pub was as hoped, and we shared a few real ales and dinner. I was just in Manchester a couple months prior at the end of my Dale’s Way walk. I really like this city. People are friendly and there’s an energy that resonates with me. We skipped the Manchester show and headed to the beer event at a really great beer bar (Beer Moth). After the event, we stumbled into a basement bar aptly named Crazy Pedro’s Part-Time Pizza Parlor. A tequila and mezcal cocktail bar, Crazy Pedro’s randomly and regularly handed out free slices of pizzas to the pulsating pack of patrons. At some point, I went out to smoke a cigar and had a dozen Trump conversations. Jonathon and I headed back to the apartment around 4.
Since Jonathon proposed this trip, his enthusiasm for the town and people of Buxton was apparent. AZWBC and Buxton Brewery have a special relationship. It was clear shortly after our arrival in Buxton that this relationship went beyond a mutual love for brewing, and ventured into a deep friendship complete with its own unique code and ritual. We headed straight for the hills to the folly known as Solomon’s Temple. I’ll state simply that many hijinks were had on that hill.The rest of the night was spent bouncing between the Buxton Brewing tap room and a cocktail bar called the Monk. We ended up singing and dancing at the Monk until about 7. As we walked to our BnB, dawn broke. Three hours later, we headed to the airport for a short flight back to London.
We were spent. We were done drinking. We were going to crash in London. But, alas, we ended up back at the King’s Arm drinking and carousing – not even a little board. The last night was a blur of new friends, bars, and clubs, finally getting to sleep about 5. In the morning, we were a disheveled sight to see. We shuffled to Heathrow and headed home.
A fast and furious trip, suited for people half my age, it’s good to know that those gray whiskers are just gray whiskers.
*Matt Coats is a fun guy and takes great photos. See more of his stuff at http://mattcoats.com and https://www.instagram.com/mattcoats/